Kilometre Zero, by Iraqi Kurd filmmaker Hiner Saleem, is the first Iraqi film to be selected for the official Cannes competition since the festival's inception in 1946.

 

At the press screening late on Wednesday ahead of its official showing on Thursday, journalists appreciated the dark humour in its tale about an Iraqi Kurd conscripted into Saddam Hussein's army to fight against Iran in 1988, but were more intent on putting it into the context of the ongoing controversy about the Iraq war and its aftermath.

 

The film itself invited comparisons with the US-led war by bracketing the story with contemporary scenes of the main characters reacting to the conflict in Paris, first with surprise then with glee over the fall of Baghdad.

 

"This director doesn't swim with the tide of European thought, and I thought that was refreshing," said Harlan Jacobson of USA Today magazine.

 

But Lebanese journalist Carla Toubia of Abu Dhabi TV said she found the film "humiliating" because of its nationalistic Kurdish slant against the Arab majority in Iraq.

 

"Everybody knows what happened in Iraq and what Saddam Hussein did, but this film seemed to show hatred toward people who were suffering and couldn't do anything about it," she said.

 

Hostage trouble 

 

There are 21 films contending for
the Palme d'Or at Cannes

Bashing, a film by Japanese director Kobayashi Masahiro, in contrast deliberately avoids calling Iraq by name, but it is clearly present in the story about a Japanese woman subjected to humiliation in her home country after enduring a hostage ordeal in an unidentified Middle East state.

 

Masahiro said the movie was inspired by the true-life events of three Japanese hostages who were publicly shamed when they finally returned home from Iraq last year, caught up in a mentality in Japan that they were responsible for their plight by going to the dangerous country in the first place.

 

But, he said: "In the film, Iraq is never mentioned. All of the details of the story are fiction."

 

The surprise win of Michael Moore's Fahrenheit 9/11 at last year's Cannes festival has added fuel to the interest shown in the two films this year.

 

The two films are part of the 21-strong field of Palme d'Or contenders.